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Off the beam?

[ 2010-11-26 12:36]     字号 [] [] []  
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Off the beam?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence (“I shouldn’t have done that – That was way off the beam”) and, in particular, “off the beam”.

My comments:

That sentence means that “I” now realize what “I” have done is very wrong.

A beam is a ray of light. Open the flash light at night and you see a beam. Or, the sun shed its beam into the room in the morning, allowing us to see dusts hovering in the air.

The “beam” in “off the beam”, though, refers to a radio signal which is transmitted, if not a straight line, along a narrow course. This is utilized for guiding airplanes or ocean-going ships in the evening or bad weather. This “beam” represents the right course – if an airplane or ship follows this “beam”, they won’t get lost.

Figuratively speaking, the “beam” represents what is right. If one follows the “beam”, one is taking the right course of action. In other words, one is doing the right thing.

Or, in another more familiar phrase, one is toeing the line.

However, if one goes “off the beam”, one no longer follows the right direction. One is off the track, and sooner or later one might go, like a train, off the rail.

That means something’s gone terribly wrong, of course.

Hence, in short, to go off the beam is to go wrong.

Here are more examples:

1. As far as responsibility goes, no one really wants it - but all of us are responsible to the community we live in & its laws. When the time comes to assume the responsibility of a home and children or business, this is the seeding of the boys from the Men - for surely you can realize what a mess the world would be if everyone in it said, “I want to be an individual, without responsibilities, & be able to speak my mind freely &do as I alone will.” We are all free to speak & do as we individually will - providing this “freedom” of Speech & Deed are not injurious to our fellow-man.

Think about it, Perry. You are above average in intelligence, but somehow your reasoning is off the beam.

- Excerpt from the book In Cold Blood (1966), by Truman Capote.

2. Margaret Truman Daniel, the only child of former president and famously proud father Harry Truman who became an author of popular murder mysteries, died on Tuesday at age 83, the Truman Library said.

Daniel, a long-time New York resident, died in a care facility in Chicago from complications from an infection contracted recently, said library director Michael Devine.

After living for decades in the same New York apartment, she moved to Chicago to be closer to the eldest of her four sons, Clifton, Devine said in a telephone interview from the Independence, Missouri, library.

Margaret Truman did not let being the president’s daughter keep her from pursuing first a singing career and then one as a mystery writer that took off after her father's death in 1972.

It was her singing and his fatherly protection that ignited President Truman’s well-known temper, leading him to write one of the most famous presidential letters in history.

After Washington Post music critic Paul Hume panned one of her vocal recitals – “Miss Truman cannot sing very well” – Truman responded from the White House that the review was “poppycock” and the critic was a “frustrated old man” who was “off the beam.”

“Some day I hope to meet you,” the president wrote Hume, ignoring the fact the critic had called his daughter “extremely attractive.” “When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

- Margaret Truman Daniel dies, Reuters, January 29, 2008.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)